Nov 2nd, 2022
Before starting your online business, there are a lot more than just products and services to take into account. You have to analyze your needs in areas like operation and logistics, marketing, and accounting. With this list of needs, you then compare different ecommerce solutions/platforms in the market and choose the one that is within your budget and meets your business needs.
In this article, we will be looking into the 3 most popular ecommerce solutions/platforms: WooCommerce, Magento, and Shopify, each with its own features costs and benefits. Note that there is no perfect platform, each of the three platforms has shortcomings and strengths. We have summarised a few key points from the most important areas of starting your ecommerce business from each platform, including hosting, pricing, ease of use, payment and logistics, flexibility, and more.
WooCommerce was first developed by WordPress theme developer WooThemes and was acquired by Automattic, operator of WordPress.com and core contributor to the WordPress software. WooCommerce is an open-source plugin that helps you build an online store using WordPress, the most popular content management system in the world. Open source means its source code is made freely available for possible modification and redistribution. And through programming, you can do whatever you want with your store using WooCommerce.
Magento is an ecommerce platform launched in 2008. It targets enterprise companies and was acquired by Adobe in 2018. It offers 3 different software versions for people to choose from.
Just like WooCommerce, it is open source. But Magento Open Source is more complex and requires more technical knowledge to use.
Adobe Commerce is built on the foundation of Magento Open Source but has some extra features for bigger businesses. These exclusive built-in features and code are optimized by default. For example, you can do AI-driven cross-selling, and the content management system in Adobe Commerce is better while allowing content staging.
The main difference between Adobe Commerce Cloud and Adobe Commerce is that Adobe Commerce Cloud includes a hosting service. So if you want to choose your own hosting solution, Adobe Commerce Cloud may not be the right choice for you.
Shopify is a Canadian ecommerce solution launched in 2006, now a multinational company, and has expanded into the Asia market. It allows merchants to create online stores with a wide range of readily available themes and templates.
The biggest difference between Shopify and the other two platforms (excluding Adobe Commerce Cloud) is that it includes hosting. Also, Shopify is the only platform in this article that is not open-source, but it still offers tons of customization and functions.
First thing first, it’s important to make a distinction on what a hosted platform entails. A hosted platform is a type of Software as a Service (SaaS), whereby users pay a monthly fee to build and host their online store. All files and data are stored with this platform and typically these platforms will have ecommerce features built in, such as shopping carts, Customer Relationship Management (CRM) systems, online payment, security & compliance, fulfillment systems, as well as product and inventory management.
Counter to a hosted platform is self-hosted options, where your business will need to set up a server to store and maintain all files and data. Popular self-hosted platforms include WooCommerce (plugin for WordPress), Adobe Commerce on-premise version, and Magento Community version. Self-hosted platforms require more time and maintenance as most of the ecommerce features need to be customized and self-maintained.
5 functional layers of Adobe Commerce Cloud infrastructure
For SMEs, hosted platforms such as Shopify and Adobe Commerce Cloud are typically the go-to choice as they require less maintenance. Although they allow for less customization in comparison to self-hosted platforms, there are workable solutions to fulfill many (if not most!) of your requirements.
WooCommerce is free to install, but you will need to pay for other items such as hosting, maintenance, and extension fee. Note that WooCommerce is open-source software, open-source software is usually less secured therefore you need to pay for the security too when using WooCommerce. On top of that, WooCommerce will induce an extra cost on constantly updating your store when some platform you are linked to has been updated. For example, if your site is linked to Facebook and Facebook has a new version, you will need to update your site as well.
Magento Open Source is free to install. However, just like WooCommerce, you will have to pay for other costs such as hosting, security, and other server maintenance work. For Adobe Commerce and Adobe Commerce Cloud, the cost depend on your annual revenue. Adobe Commerce’s price range from $22,000 to 125,000 USD per year while Adobe Commerce Cloud’s range from $40,000 to 190,000 USD per year. Using Magento has some potential costs as well. Because of the complexity of Magento, you are likely to need IT support. These supports cost around HKD 20,000+ per month if you are hiring an agency.
Just now we mentioned open-source software is usually less secure, therefore when your store is hacked, you may have to pay compensation for the data breach according to the legislation. This applies to WooCommerce and Magento Community Version. Another potential cost to pay attention to is the cost of the Magento upgrade. Let’s take a look at Magento’s history: the process of upgrading from Magento 1 to Magento 2 was not an iterative one since these 2 versions are literally 2 different platforms so this has cost merchants a lot of resources and effort to migrate. You should acknowledge that this kind of not-so-smooth transition may happen again.
Shopify Pricing Plan (Hong Kong)
Shopify offers 3 different plans: Basic, Standard, and Advanced, ranging from $25 to 299 USD per month(the pricing may vary according to the region). It also offers an enterprise-level plan “Shopify Plus”, costing from USD 2000 per month depending on revenue. Even though there are free themes and apps on the Shopify Theme Store and App Store, you still have to pay for some of them so don’t forget to include them in your cost estimation. But the subscription fee comes with a housing solution and point-of-sale software. On top of that, you do not have to worry about security when you are using Shopify as it includes SSL certification and PCI-DSS compliance by default.
Editing product profile on WooCommerce
WooCommerce requires you to spend more time on the setup process since you have to prepare for finding a hosting solution. At the same time, it is not that easy to use as well and may be overwhelming for people who do not have IT knowledge. On the other hand, since it is a plug-in of WordPress, so if you have experience working with WordPress, it will be easier for you to get started with WooCommerce. However, there are no strict UI/UX design guidelines about how to build a WooCommerce plugin by WordPress. This results in each app having its own way to control the plugin settings and an inconsistent admin console experience.
Magento is an advanced CMS platform; in other words, it’s super complex, you need lots of IT knowledge to manage and web development skills to build a store with functions that meet your expectation. Even with plug-ins, you probably still need coding to customize it, and as your store grows and the coding begins to get more and more complicated, you will need Magento know-hows to help you maintain and update the core Magento software and get the additional functionality organized and conflictless. Even if you are skilled in web development, you will still need a team to help you out, or else you will get lost easily. Because of its complexity, Magento targets large companies that should have sufficient resources to hire web developers to build and maintain the stores for them.
Shopify is the easiest to use among the three and 90% of the time no coding is required when you are using it. You can build your site according to the Shopify guideline. Another thing to note is that all plug-ins you find on the app store are built based on the Design Guidelines by Shopify and need Shopify’s approval. Therefore all apps are aligned with Shopify and a consistent user experience is ensured.
WooCommerce is usually slow. WordPress is not a platform for ecommerce, it is for blog posting. Therefore being an extension of WordPress means WooCommerce has a lot of codes that are irrelevant for an ecommerce store to load, making the site comparatively slow.
Magento Community Version is usually the slowest one among all platforms in this article. Without good engineers to optimize your store, it is easy to be slowed down by the extensions you add to the site.
Shopify and Adobe Commerce Cloud are usually the fastest. They both come with cloud hosting and are connected to the global network. This ensures fast and stable access from everywhere in the world.
WooCommerce has its own payment gateway – WooCommerce Payment powered by Stripe and provides more than 100 payment gateways for merchants to choose from, including some common methods such as PayPal. You can also connect to local payment gateways in Hong Kong like FPS, WeChat Pay, and Alipay via plug-ins. One advantage of using WooCommerce is that there is no transaction fee when collecting your revenue. WooCommerce also supports cash on delivery, bank transfer, and checks. Your desired payment gateway is not on the list? No worry, you can connect to whatever payment gateways you want with additional IT cost.
Magento is connected to 150+ payment gateways. Just like WooCommerce, Magento allows you to connect to whatever payment gateways you want with additional IT cost. So, no problem in integrating with local payment gateways. Magento also allows merchants to take their revenue through cash on delivery and bank transfer.
Shopify has its own payment gateway but it also provides 100+ payment gateways for merchants to choose from. Simply plug in the payment gateway you want to integrate with and then you can collect your money with it right away. With Shopify, you can also connect to some popular local payment gateways such as FPS, WeChat Pay, AliPay, PayMe, BOC Pay, UnionPay, and AsiaPay. Please note that you will have to pay an extra transaction fee unless you are using Shopify’s payment gateway.
Shopify’s own payment gateway “Shopify Payments”
As for the logistic part, most online stores in Hong Kong use ShipAny and it can be linked to all three of the above platform. Magento needs ShipAny’s API to do the integration while WooCommerce and Shopify can easily connect to ShipAny through an app. For international shipping, merchants can connect to 3PL like Kerry Logistics if the turnover is high. 3PL’s services include storage, packing, and last-mile delivery, it cost more but is suitable for large companies which aim to shorten the delivery time and increase customer satisfaction. Small businesses can use ShipAny to do international shipping as well. Another commonly used platform for international shipping is Easyship. It helps you compare the shipping rate and estimated arrival time of different logistic solutions and provides discounts.
Printing out shipping label on WooCommerce
The flexibility of your site depends a lot on how its theme is designed. With WooCommerce, you can choose any WordPress theme that supports WooCommerce. However, just like the apps, there are no standard guidelines for developers on how to design the theme and organize the theme settings. Therefore you will need to learn how to use the theme every time you change to a new one. Often WooCommerce theme requires you to install plugins as well which makes the control even more complicated.
On the other hand, since WooCommerce is open-sourced, you can edit the checkout page and pricing logic however you want via coding. Another problem is that as you are doing ongoing modifications on the checkout, the logic complexity increases, and it may eventually lead to an unsustainable pricing behavior and an unstable checkout experience.
Magento only has 11 themes, all of them are paid and can cost up to USD499 each. In Magento’s marketplace, you can find 2700+ extensions. Magento allows you to have complete control over your store therefore many merchants actually build everything from scratch. This platform is so flexible that the only limitation is your coding skill and budget. However, due to the high flexibility, it is very easy to fall into the same complex logic issue as WooCommerce.
Shopify has 80+ fully customizable free and paid themes. These themes are already polished even before customization. It also has 7000+ apps on Shopify App Store. Merchants can do further customization on the themes and apps or even design their own apps.
However, Shopify has been locking its backend logic. Until recently, it finally allow developers to access part of it through the Shopify Plus Checkout UI extension and Shopify Functions. But these two features are currently exclusive to Shopify Plus merchants only. This makes Shopify not as flexible as the other two platforms. On the bright side, this helps Shopify users to stay out of the complex logic issue we mentioned earlier and the whole store will be more secure and stable.
The scalability of the site depends a lot on the hosting solution while WooCommerce does not come with one. During flash sales, the traffic may be too much for the host, if the host cannot take the peak traffic and transaction volume, the site is very likely to be offline and display server error 500. Therefore merchants need to do extra technical preparation to handle the sudden increase in traffic.
Magento also has similar hosting problems (unless you are using Adobe Commerce Cloud) so again you will need to do extra technical preparation before doing flash sales like Black Friday or Cyber Monday.
For Shopify, it includes an unlimited bandwidth hosting solution for every plan. Shopify will prepare for flash sales so that you can focus your time and resources on promoting and growing your business.
WooCommerces provides ticket support, live chat, and email for merchants to reach for help. You can refer to the WooCommerce docs and blog for guidelines as well. If none of the above help, then you can think of hiring an agency to help you out.
Magento Open Source does not have any human support. You will have to reach out to your Magento developers. You can also join the user community to start a discussion or go to Magento Help Center to search for articles that are helpful to you. If you are using Adobe Commerce or Adobe Commerce Cloud, you can log into your account on the Help Center and get phone, ticket, and demo official support from Adobe. You can also request remote support when facing technical issues but the scope is limited by Adobe Commerce’s native functionality. You will still need a Magento developer for issues related to custom development and 3rd party extensions and others.
Shopify Help Center
Shopify offers email, phone, and live chat for all plans to provide 24/7 support to all merchants. You can also refer to articles on Shopify Help Center and blog or take online courses to help yourself out. Shopify’s ecosystem also allows you to reach out to Shopify Experts or Partners for help.
In conclusion, all three of the above platforms have their own strength and are suitable for different kinds of business.
WooCommerce is suitable for you If you want more customization and has some technical knowledge but do not have the budget to hire a technical support team. However, it is not recommended if ecommerce is the core of your business. It is more suitable for people who do not have many transactions per month, say less than 20 products and 10 orders per month. It is also suitable for people who have already been using WordPress as a content management system for the website and want to sell products as a small or side business.
Magento is suitable for people with high sales volume and large budgets. It is powerful, has limitless possibilities, and gives users complete control over the whole store. However, you will need lots of support even if you are an IT expert because you need a team, therefore you will need to either subscribe to monthly service from an agency or build an in-house IT team to keep the site running.
Shopify is for people who prefer technical and fundamental items taken care of them. It is the easiest to use among the three. Shopify may be edged out in terms of flexibility, but it strived a balance between flexibility, security, and stability, making it the most secured option. If you want to do customization or consultation on Shopify, feel free to contact a Shopify Expert like Navy FAB.
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